Hunter Railey

Colorado lawmakers had an opportunity during the 2018 legislative session to really help level the playing field for the state’s small businesses by passing bills that would have established a paid family and medical leave insurance program as well as a publicly administered retirement savings program for private-sector workers. Yet for the second year in a row both bills passed the House of Representatives before dying in the Senate, leaving small businesses to wonder if they will ever get the help they need to attract and retain talented employees.

For the fourth year in a row, the legislature considered the Family Medical Leave Insurance Program (FAMLI), but the bill did not pass through both chambers. This is disappointing for small firms because it would have leveled the playing field for businesses that lack the resources to offer paid leave while also boosting their bottom lines. This legislation would have created a state-administered paid family and medical leave insurance program, funded by modest employee contributions, that would have provided employees in Colorado with up to 12 weeks of paid leave so they can bond with a new child or care for an ailing family member. The FAMLI Act would have substantially benefited businesses that struggle to offer this sort of benefit by lowering turnover, boosting productivity and enhancing employee morale. What’s more, small employers could have provided their employees with paid leave at no added cost to their business.

The continued failure of the FAMLI Act goes against what the small business community needs and wants. Small Business Majority’s scientific opinion polling found 56 percent of small employers nationwide support the creation of state-administered paid family and medical leave insurance programs funded entirely by modest employee contributions.

It is also disappointing that the Colorado Secure Savings Plan failed again given that most small businesses are unable to offer retirement benefits. The Secure Savings Plan would have allowed private-sector employees to contribute toward an individual retirement savings account using modest payroll deductions. This would have allowed small employers to offer practical benefits to their employees at little cost to their businesses since the state would have been responsible for most of the administrative burden of these plans.

It’s a harsh reality that most small business owners do not have the staff, time or financial resources to provide retirement benefits for their employees. In fact, just 12 percent of workers employed by businesses with fewer than 25 employees have any sort of pension or retirement plan at all. Employers like Kelli Riley, owner of Riley Law LLC in Greeley, know how difficult it is for small firms to offer retirement benefits to their employees, and she laments that she is unable to do so.

“Having a program that is both affordable and reliably managed by someone else is critically important for small businesses that do not have the time, financial resources, expertise or staff to take on a retirement benefits program,” Riley said. “Without such a program, we will continue to compete for the best employees on an uneven playing field, losing out to larger companies that can afford to offer such benefits.”

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We know small businesses value their employees, so it’s no surprise they support programs that are good for their workers as well as their bottom line. In fact, scientific opinion polling released by Small Business Majority and AARP found nearly 6 in 10 small business owners in Colorado support a privately managed state retirement savings program.

As an advocate for Colorado’s more than 550,000 small businesses, it’s deeply frustrating to see good policies fail year after year. Despite those setbacks, however, we’ll keep working on behalf of this state’s job creators. I hope in 2019 more of Colorado’s lawmakers can say the same.

Hunter Railey is the Colorado outreach manager for Small Business Majority.